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How Do You Praise?

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 28, 2017)

"I was at a dinner with my family and some family friends one evening and my son was interacting with an older auntie at the table. He was smiling and responding to her questions and it appeared that she was quite enamored by him. Then she turns to me and ever so quietly said “he’s adorable, such a good boy – but don’t let him hear me say that.” I’ve been told that this practice is quite a traditional Chinese practice where people believe that we can ‘spoil our young ones with praise’ and that speaking positive things will somehow jinx a person to end up being the opposite.

And on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen adults and parents who lather on the praise on their children, or other people’s children. “Oh you’re so wonderful!” or “you’re the best student on earth” may be how they praise and it may be with the intention of building self-esteem and confidence.

So what is the right way? I don’t think there is a definitive answer but there are some things I think work well.

I am personally of the belief that there is power in words. Our words carry weight – otherwise they wouldn’t mean so much or hurt so much when used. I still remember hurtful things said to me decades ago that have left a wound but similarly, I also remember encouraging things said to me that have lifted me up. Words carry power and we have the choice of how to use that power.